HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc824-5
2. Mr. Hawkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the position on the future attack helicopter needs of the Royal Air Force; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)

My Department is evaluating tenders to meet the Army's requirement for an attack helicopter. We hope to make a decision on the purchase of that equipment before the summer recess.

Mr. Hawkins

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. He is well aware that many thousands of my constituents work at British Aerospace Warton, which is one of the bases that is heavily involved in the British Aerospace bid for the attack helicopter. I hope that he will be able to reassure my constituents that British Aerospace's bid will be seriously considered when future provision of RAF attack helicopters is considered, as it is obviously an excellent product.

Mr. Freeman

I can give that assurance. Our four criteria in taking a decision about the attack helicopter are, first, whether the bid meets the operational requirements of the Army Air Corps; secondly, the cost—whether it represents good value for money; thirdly, the impact on the United Kingdom defence industrial base, including employment, for example, at British Aerospace; and, finally, the risks involved in further development.

Mr. Martlew

As the question refers to helicopters for the RAF, will the Minister say whether progress has been made in ordering the utility helicopter for the RAF because it is now nearly a decade since the Government promised to buy it? Is the Minister aware that the job security of employees at Westland in Yeovil depends on his placing an order for the EH101?

Mr. Freeman

That is well understood. We have made substantial progress in negotiations with Westland and Boeing and expect to make an announcement shortly. The importance of an indigenous UK helicopter manufacturing company is of direct relevance, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made it plain that our preference is for a mixed fleet order, but not at any cost. We expect to reach a decision soon.

Sir Jim Spicer

Most hon. Members will be reassured by my right hon. Friend's statement that the order will be decided not on price alone but on the quality of the product. May I make a plea that, if he is looking for a quality product and to ensure employment, he must look to Westland's involvement in an attack helicopter order, which would meet the requirements of the Army extremely well?

Mr. Freeman

Westland's contribution to an order for one of the attack helicopter contenders—the Apache—would be relatively modest compared with the contribution that it would make, for example, to a support helicopter order. The programme for the Merlin version, which is for anti-submarine warfare, is going extremely well and Westland is to be congratulated on its achievements.